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 V.23 No.14 | April 3 - 9, 2014 

Arts Education

Gimme Supershelter

Sustainable architecture can be learned in a few weekends

The Hive founder, Jesse Kalapa, under an earthbag wall built with UNM sustainability students
photos by Cameron Crow
The Hive founder, Jesse Kalapa, under an earthbag wall built with UNM sustainability students
Barbed wire. Bags. Inorganic material stabilized with cement or lime.

Believe it or not, this is the stuff dreams are made of. Or houses. Probably houses more than dreams, really, because these are the primary ingredients in earthbag construction. A technique for building über-strong structures on the cheap, earthbag construction is sometimes called “superadobe” (which is a comic book I would totally read). You can make raised beds, cisterns, benches, archways and even domes the earthbag way.

Now the UNM Sustainability Studies Program is partnering with two local organizations for Building the New World: A Comprehensive Guide to Earthbag Construction. This 9-day workshop series gives local makers and shakers the chance to get their hands dirty with the sustainable, versatile technique. ABQ Old School, known for its DIY curriculum covering everything from sock-darning to home brewing, and the Hive, a self-described “emerging center for intentional community, sustainability, radical self-reliance, permaculture, experimental art and music, political action and much more,” have hooked up with instructor Biko Casini, an alumnus of the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture with experience in a laundry list of natural building techniques, to put earthbag construction methods at your fingertips with classes April 5 through 13.

The Hive as seen from the street—the earthbag dome will be continued in the workshop series.
The Hive as seen from the street—the earthbag dome will be continued in the workshop series.
Workshop participants can come this Saturday and Sunday, April 5 and 6, and $175 will get them beginner/intermediate superadobe training at The Hive (2105 St. Cyr SE, near Fairview Cemetery). For those who want to stick with it, the whole 9-day workshop runs $300 and continues April 7 through 11 for the intermediate training and April 12 and 13 for advanced.

By series’ end, students will know how to make a serpentine wall with LED glass bottle lights and possess skills like delineating a circle, using arch forms and mixing adobe. They’ll also know so much about soil testing and structural principles they’ll be able to bore strangers at cocktail parties for years to come. UNM students get a $50 discount and limited scholarships are available, so check out and for registration deets.

If you don’t happen to have the cash or time to invest in sustainable architectural training at the moment, you can learn more at a couple of free events. Head to Tortuga Gallery (901 Edith SE) at 7pm on Thursday, April 3, for an earthbag film screening followed by a discussion with experienced builders. Or stop by UNM’s Anthro building, Room 163, on Friday, April 4, at 5pm, for an informative lecture by Casini.

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